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Harry Connick Jr. says his new talk show could be 'the most fulfilling thing I've ever done'

Harry Connick Jr. says his new talk show could be 'the most fulfilling thing I've ever done'
Harry Connick Jr. on the set of his new show "Harry." (Heidi Gutman / NBC)

Harry Connick Jr. has a lot of fans. They just may not all be fans of the same person.

The New Orleans native has both performed on and composed for Broadway ("The Pajama Game," "Thou Shalt Not"). He's appeared in a wide range of films — from "Dolphin Tale" to  "Independence Day" original flavor — and on television as an actor ("Will & Grace") as well as a stint as a judge on the final seasons of "American Idol."  And, of course, he has had a long, award-winning career as a jazz singer-musician.

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Now he takes on a new challenge with the premiere Monday of his daytime talk show "Harry."

"Can you imagine how lucky I feel to know this is happening?" asked Connick.  "If I got to do this for two weeks and the ratings were horrible and that was the end of it, I'd feel like I really got to do something exactly like I wanted to do. Just the fact that we have a chance to celebrate people and positive things, it's humbling."

We chatted recently with the voluble and infectiously energetic performer about his new show.

You're used to the grind of touring and Broadway. But a daily show is a whole new beast where you have to come up with material every day.

I don't like the word "grind" because I've never felt that. I've been on Broadway, eight shows a week, and people say, "Are you ready for the grind?"  I don't know who these people are. I'm an entertainer, so I love it. I've been on the road for months. I've had bronchitis and had ripped muscles. I've been tired, but I've never once thought, "This is a grind." It's the job of this immense and talented staff to come up with things for me to respond to. There's music, there's talking to people, there's listening to people, there's man on the street.

There's so many different places to go that it feels like maybe the most fulfilling thing I've ever done because I've never had to do anything that allowed me to do all of those things. For me it's the perfect scenario.

Many of the people who have hosted talk shows have been actors and comedians who are used to following a script or honing a routine. But as a musician you're used to improvising. Do you think that's part of the appeal? 

Yeah, because even if a light breaks on set, there's a segment there. The main thing is explaining to the technical side of the crew [to be] ready for me to walk across the street to Starbucks in real time.   I couldn't do it any other way. The risk-reward ratio is higher because you never know what you're going to get.

But even if you fail, you can fail in an interesting way. Well, "fail" isn't the right word but …

No, no, "fail" is the right word. I like that. Do you know how many times I've been onstage where I tried stuff and it failed? And I'm so OK with it. If I sing a ballad that doesn't work — you know how many tunes I've stopped in the middle and said, "This is horrible." It's not rocket science.

Was it suggested to you to do it the traditional way?

No. When we went to NBC Universal, I said, "I want to have it completely unstructured." Here's another example: There's a segment that we do called "I Got This."

I like playing across the country and meeting people. I said I want to show up at somebody's place of business or their house. I don't want to know anything about 'em, but y'all got to find me somebody that may be working two jobs or is a single mom, somebody that's struggling. Don't tell them it's me coming, so when I show up they're surprised. I show up and say, "What do you do?" So I say, "Look, I'm going to take care of everything you do and we're going to send you off to a spa or something and just give you a little bit of a break." And we've already shot 10 of them on the road.

What have you had to do so far?

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I don't want to give it away.

Just one.

This woman named Poochie from Atlanta grew up in a really crap neighborhood and started this amazing nail salon where she has got thousands of Instagram followers. I had to take over doing people's nails. It was awful. But the amazing thing is I sat with Poochie in the back office and 10 minutes of just listening to her, it was just a snapshot of how great our country is and how filled to the brim it is with extraordinary people.

There's another segment we're doing called "Harry's Leading Ladies" where I said, "Y'all need to find a woman who has accomplished something great or small." It could be a little girl who sold a bunch of Girl Scout Cookies. It could be a woman who just retired after teaching 2nd grade for 30 years. I don't care, but I need to celebrate a woman every day at the beginning of the show. I love strong women. I've been around them my whole life and I want to meet more.

Will you do a monologue?

It's not a traditional monologue. It could be a LeBron-ologue where LeBron James comes on and every time I say a joke he shoots a basket. It could be a Michelle Kwan-ologue where we skate around the ice.

Who is on your guest wish list?

Carol Burnett; she was at my wedding. I love Carol, she's a good friend. If Dick Van Dyke came on my show? It would be amazing. Or [Don] Rickles or Bob Newhart. But then there's also all this young talent like Cory Henry or Jacob Collier or Joey Alexander. There's so many!

You have a fearlessness that a lot of performers don't have in this context. You're not afraid to look silly.

It happens. That's just part of it, so it's OK. And you know what the ultimate goal would be, and this is wishful thinking, but wouldn't it be cool if there was some performer out there who was watching and thought, "Wow, are they really making that stuff up?" That would be amazing to inspire one performer, much less a generation of people. Everything is so scripted right now.

'Harry'

Where: Fox

When: 4 p.m. Monday-Friday

Where: KCOP

When: 9 p.m. Monday-Friday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

4 p.m. KTTV

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